The Path of a Pathogen
More than 200 million people are infected with malaria every year, and a new discovery has illuminated the evolution of Plasmodium falciparum—the deadliest of the parasites carrying the disease. Researchers in the U.K., France and Gabon teamed up to create an ancestral tree for the family of malaria parasites that includes P. falciparum, the only member that infects humans. By sequencing and analyzing the genomes of these single-celled organisms, the team pinpointed exactly when P. falciparum jumped beyond chimpanzees and gorillas. Reporting in Nature Microbiology, the researchers believe the parasite emerged 0,000 years ago, developing itšs human-speciɿc form only ,000 or ,000 years ago. 7hey also identiɿed the single cluster of genes that enabled P. falciparum to make that leap—a critical discovery that could help end the scourge of malaria.